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Abstract

This dissertation explores how artists figured Christ’s absence, a seemingly paradoxical task for the visual arts. I examine objects made for use in the celebration of Christian liturgies in Western Europe ca. 950-1050, a period of time when, I argue, artists experimented intensely with new strategies for representing those moments when Christ’s incarnate body is elsewhere, obscured from view, and absent on Earth. As medievalist art historians have long recognized, the complex interplay between presence and absence was a central concern of image making, liturgical practice, and theology in the Middle Ages. In their accounts of the events of Christ’s life, including his resurrection and ascension, the canonical Gospels presented medieval artists with the challenge of not figuring Christ’s body, whilst upholding the central Christian belief in Christ’s enduring presence beyond the grasp of the human senses. I demonstrate that medieval artists surmounted these representational challenges to both figure and qualify Christ’s absence through highly innovative formal means. In chapter one, I focus on images of the Visitatio sepulchri; in chapter two, the Ascension; and in chapter three, the celebration of Mass. Ultimately, early medieval artists and their patrons re-framed moments of Christ’s absence in terms of ecclesiological presence, variously suggesting who and what can be representative of Christ once he is no longer on Earth. My images offer a set of propositional answers to such questions on the eve of the so-called Gregorian Reform Movement (c. 1050-80), at which point they become codified.

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